Meanwhile in the USA, the weakness of the Bush administration clearly is not ending. Bush seems to be acting decisively, until one considers how small his room for maneuver actually is. These things happen periodically in the United States. Presidents Nixon, Johnson, Truman -- all ended their years in office unable to wield power. The United States always recovers from this. Nevertheless, such cycles in the presidency create opportunities for other powers to act. Whenever the world's leading power moves toward political paralysis, others become much more aggressive. We see this and will continue to see this in places from Venezuela to Asia. But the most important actions will be taken by the great powers, Russia and China.

Russia has clearly reasserted itself. The state is now the center of both Russian society and economy. Russia now clearly intends to return to being the center around which all former Soviet states revolve. Moscow has discovered, not surprisingly, that energy and other natural resources provide it with a tremendous lever in the region. That, plus the ubiquitous Russian intelligence service, allows the Russians to shape the region. At the moment, given U.S. preoccupations, the response of the Americans to the Russian resurgence has not been substantial. The Russians would not be deterred anyway; for them, this is a matter of fundamental national interests. But they also need not be concerned: The United States has neither the appetite nor bandwidth for resistance.

The consolidation trend will continue and increase in 2007, as Russia prepares for the Dec. 2 parliamentary elections and the presidential election March 2, 2008. Expansion of state control over the oil, natural gas, gold, diamond and metals industries will be coupled with the consolidation of political forces and a crackdown on dissent. The deaths of former Russian Federal Security Service agent Alexander Litvinenko and journalist Anna Politkovskaya have been attributed to their outspoken opposition to the Kremlin, and others could vanish from the political scene one way or another as elections draw near. Because Russia 's electoral laws have been changed to favor larger and more established parties, many smaller groups will seek to coalesce into larger entities. The pro-Kremlin United Russia party is expected to take most of the seats in the parliament, thereby gaining the ability to alter the constitution, and the opposition forces remain weak and unable to unite into a viable force. The new parliament, much like the current one, will exist solely to implement the president's will.

Putin will select a successor, and the two front-runners for that position -- First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov -- will expand their public roles in 2007. The two men have been exhibiting pragmatic foreign policy outlooks, as we indicated in our previous annual forecast. Putin will not make his choice until the last possible moment, and though he could choose another candidate, Medvedev and Ivanov are the current favorites. Putin will remain in a position of power, either by retaining the presidency with the help of the newly elected parliament or by assuming control over a strategic industry such as natural gas.

Internal consolidation will remain closely tied to Russia 's expanding control over its periphery. Moscow has had considerable success reasserting its influence in Ukraine following the March parliamentary elections and the installation of Viktor Yanukovich as prime minister. We indicated in our previous annual forecast that Russia was likely to act to install a friendly regime using the election as a key event, though we did not predict that Ukraine would return to the Russian fold to the degree it did in 2006. Following the Orange Revolution of 2004, pro-Western forces gained control under President Viktor Yushchenko, though they have not been altogether successful at actually governing Ukraine . Russia 's public support of Yanukovich as a presidential candidate in 2004 was unsuccessful, but with Moscow 's behind-the-scenes support, Yanukovich's Party of Regions won a plurality in 2006 and, after months of wrangling, managed to form a majority coalition in the parliament.

Since then, Ukraine has remained in deadlock, with the executive and legislative branches continuously working to undermine each other and doing little actual policymaking. Yanukovich has been more successful in this row and has undercut much of Yushchenko's authority. Yushchenko has but one chance to regain control, and it is not a good option -- to dismiss the parliament and call early elections. In order for Yushchenko to retain a vestige of power, he will need to rekindle the Orange Coalition with ambitious former ally Yulia Timoshenko, but that would mean Yushchenko would have to share the spotlight with her.

Ukraine 's neighbor Belarus has experienced a significant deterioration of relations with Russia over the past year. A last-minute deal for supplies of Russian natural gas signaled an end to Russia 's subsidization of President Aleksandr Lukashenko's regime.

In order to avoid becoming a complete peon of the Kremlin, Lukashenko will have to look westward for investment and support, and this option gives him at least some leeway against Moscow. Belarus has been beholden to Russia for Lukashenko's entire 13-year presidency. The country is now at least somewhat in play, but Russia still has the tools to counter Belarus ' Western ambitions. The oil cut-off on Jan. 8 signaled Russia 's willingness to inflict damage to its own economy in order to bring the wayward republic under control.

Tensions are set to escalate in the Caucasus, as relations between Georgia and Russia show no signs of improving, and as Armenia and Azerbaijan inch toward an escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As Tbilisi further extricates itself from economic ties to Moscow , the conflict over Georgia 's two secessionist regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, will intensify. The United Nations is almost certain to grant independence to the Serbian province of Kosovo ; this will prompt Russia to call for the same status for secessionist entities outside its own borders. Russia is likely to seek to increase its presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia under the guise of peacekeeping efforts, and Georgia will respond in kind.

Azerbaijan has significantly increased its income from energy projects and has pledged to spend approximately $1 billion on defense in 2007, up from $700 million in 2006. Although Azerbaijan 's military has been inferior to Armenia 's, the spending hike could bring increased confrontation between the two over the Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan . As with Georgia 's secessionist regions, the determination of Kosovo's status will prompt an escalation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. A diplomatic solution is not likely in the near future.

Russia historically has dominated Central Asia, with most of the countries -- especially regional leaders Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan -- ruled by Soviet-era cadres with allegiance to Moscow , and the others deferring to their giant neighbor anyway. At the end of 2006, Russia gained an opportunity to expand its influence further. The Dec. 21 death of Turkmenistan 's president-for-life, Saparmura Niyazov, another Soviet-era leader, has prompted Russia , China and other regional players to attempt to project greater influence in the energy-rich state. Acting Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimukhammedov is the certain winner of the Feb. 11 poll, but the shape of his agenda remains unclear, since not much is known about the man. While neighboring Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan will want to assure that Turkmenistan is friendly, or at least innocuous, Russia has a keen interest in maintaining control over Turkmenistan 's natural gas deposits -- the fifth-largest in the world. If the new president is unwilling to cooperate with Moscow , the Kremlin will use its available tools -- ranging from political pressure to assassination -- to ensure that he will not hold office for long.

As Russia moves to solidify its presence in Central Asia via Turkmenistan , neighboring states, especially Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan , will become increasingly concerned for their own sovereignty. While Kazakhstan remains politically loyal to Moscow , it has economic partnerships -- particularly in the lucrative energy sector -- with companies from many other countries, including India , South Korea , China and the West. Should Astana grow disconcerted by Moscow's encroaching presence, the Kazakh government could seek to counterbalance Moscow and expand its relationship with Beijing via Kazakhstan's new Chinese-educated Prime Minister Karim Masimov -- and China is certainly looking to increase its influence in Central Asia.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov is also likely to be concerned for his regime as Russian influence expands. Karimov might continue giving Russia control of energy assets in order to preserve his own rule, while keeping open the option to turn to China . However, as long as the Russians do not employ heavy-handed tactics in Turkmenistan , Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan both will seek to perpetuate their existing relationships with Moscow .

Russia also has been looking to expand its influence in Africa . Closer relations are likely in 2007, as Moscow forgives African countries' Soviet-era debt and looks to increase cooperation in the mining sector. As Russia consolidates control over its own industries, expanding into Africa and other regions could be the next step toward increasing control over the world's deposits of high-value commodities. But for this to work, Moscow has to do something in Africa that it has been loathe to do at home: invest its own money. Should Russia do that, Moscow could gain a lot of assets -- and influence -- very quickly.

Russia will attempt to maintain the status quo in its relations with the United States and Europe in order to focus on domestic issues. However, Moscow will continue to cooperate with Iran, Syria , the Hamas-led Palestinian government and other regimes considered unfriendly to the United States . In these relationships, Russia profits from arms and equipment sales and derails U.S. goals in the Middle East while dividing Washington 's attention. Relations with European leaders are not likely to see improvement; German Chancellor Angela Merkel will make European energy security a priority of Germany 's EU presidency, and whoever is elected the next French leader will not view Russia in the same favorable light as President Jacques Chirac has.

But the Russians will not be solely concerned with what they call their near abroad. They are masters of leverage, and they know the United States is bogged down in Iraq and the Muslim world. They have made it clear to the Americans that it cannot be assumed that Russia will simply support the U.S. position on international issues. Moscow 's position on Iran and Syria has been unacceptable to the United States . But then, Washington 's position on Ukraine and Georgia has been unacceptable to the Russians. The Russians will continue to exacerbate problems for the United States in the Muslim world. They want to limit American power, and they will use such means to do so. And thus finally from China to the Middle East;

The Chinese are looking inward primarily. Their problem is internal, with a huge overhanging portfolio of nonperforming and troubled loans. A conservative estimate is that bad loans in China equal about 40 percent of gross domestic product. A more reasonable estimate is about 60 percent. These numbers closely resemble those of Japan in 1990 and tower over those of South Korea or Taiwan in 1996. The Chinese have huge currency reserves -- but then so did Japan , South Korea and Taiwan. Those reserves historically have not stabilized Asian banking systems when the consequences of undisciplined lending come home to roost. Chinese enterprises have used exports -- as did Japan and South Korea and Taiwan -- to maintain cash flow to pay loans. But surging profitless exports merely exacerbates the problem. The Chinese government tried to stop the runaway train in 2006; it failed to do so. Westerners have again confused high growth rates with economic health, as they did with Japan and East Asia . But where rates of return on capital are extremely low or even negative, high growth rates are a symptom of disease.

China 's financial system already has changed dramatically from the way it was a few years ago. Internal lending and financing patterns have shifted, and foreign direct investment -- excluding money being recycled by the Chinese -- has declined substantially. Many deals that were launched with high expectations five years ago are facing substantial problems or failure. But the most important changes in China can be seen in their politics. The Communist Party chief in Shanghai and hundreds of his allies have been arrested for corruption. Incidents of resistance to land seizures have increased, bringing with them violence and arrests. The Party has reasserted itself as the master of the state, and the Chinese security services have increased their intrusiveness and vigilance. In China , putting off the reckoning as long as possible and controlling the social and political consequences as efficiently as possible are the orders of the day. Beijing is trying to regain control of the economy -- but it is more likely to do so through political power than through economic processes.

For Westerners, the question on China is, when will it crash? For the Chinese, the question is, how do you save the Party apparatus in the face of enormous economic and social stress? It should be recalled that Japan did not just fall apart one day. It experienced an enormous growth surge, followed by a managed decline of growth in which the pain was distributed economically. For China , the problem is the failure to slow growth. This failure has told the leadership that they need to increase the power of the state, and of the Party over the state. In a hundred ways, that is happening.

At the same time, China is becoming more insecure about its geopolitical position. Issues ranging from trade disputes to Taiwan are being exacerbated by the insecurity that clearly is being felt by Beijing . The regime sees the United States as a threat to its security over the long term, and is taking steps to assert itself against the United States . China 's lasers hit U.S. satellites last year as a demonstration of prowess, and a Chinese submarine penetrated the perimeter of a U.S. carrier battle group. China is not about to undertake military adventures in 2007, but it also is not prepared to be a passive onlooker in the Pacific. There will be more friction.

The United States , Russia and China are the active great powers. The Europeans and Japan remain largely passive and reactive. They will not be shaping the global environment in 2007. Latin America will churn and shift, but there is no decisive event coming there. Africa remains what it has been. Thus, 2007 will be a year for great powers -- and for that matter, for those who would challenge great powers, particularly the United States .

Plus foremost of course the U.S.-Iranian standoff over the fate of Iraq will have a profound impact on the course of geopolitical events in 2007. After the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq , Iran seized the opportunity to assert itself as the regional kingmaker while the United States became increasingly paralyzed in Iraq . The United States now finds itself at a critical juncture: It no longer can afford to stay the course in Iraq and dedicate U.S. troops to an unattainable mission of securing the country solely through military force. As advocated by the Baker-Hamilton report, the time has come for the United States and Iran to stop giving each other the silent treatment and work toward a comprehensive settlement for Iraq .

But the United States is still far from its desired negotiating position, and thus will continue to shy away from the Baker-Hamilton report's recommendations until it can level the playing field against Iran . Before Washington moves forward on the diplomatic front, it will need to disprove the perception that the United States has been permanently marginalized in Iraq and ultimately will have to withdraw its forces -- something that would leave Iran to pick up the pieces and project Shiite influence into the heart of the Arab world. This perception of marginalization is what has driven heightening Sunni concerns that United States no longer will be the security guarantor against an empowered Shiite bloc, led by Iran .

To shatter these expectations and demonstrate that the United States is still very much in the game, U.S. President George W. Bush announced Jan. 10 a strategy to "surge" U.S. troops in Iraq . The increase will total 21,500 troops, with a peak of 17,500 in Baghdad and another 4,000 in Anbar province. Ultimately, this looks unlikely even to bring the total level of U.S. forces to their peak strength of 160,000 -- the number of troops that were in Iraq in November and December 2005, in the buildup to the general elections Dec. 15. It is likely to be accompanied by a shift in tactics to focus more specifically on counterinsurgency operations.

The forces will certainly be useful -- assisting with security inside Baghdad and leaving units that would otherwise be shifted to the capital available to confront issues in their respective areas of responsibility. However, in and of itself, this new deployment will be insufficient to turn the tide in Iraq . Operation Together Forward -- the failed attempt after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death to use a small surge in troop levels in Baghdad to impose security there -- is a case in point. Together Forward was essentially the U.S. military's last, best effort to secure Baghdad with the existing force structure.

Baghdad remains the key. Without stability there, there can be no Iraqi state. But the proposed surge of 21,500 troops -- without a new, concerted diplomatic effort -- is unlikely to succeed in effecting a political resolution in Baghdad .

However, there is a key psychological element to this strategy. The United States will spend the coming months taking an aggressive stance against Iranian operations in Iraq , including additional raids on Iranian diplomatic offices and arrests of Iranian officials in the country who are suspected of orchestrating attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces. The U.S. military will be posturing to dispel the Iranian perception that the battleground will remain within Iraq 's borders. The United States could also step up covert efforts to ramp up the militant activities of Iran 's indigenous separatist groups, such as the Ahvazi Arabs in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan in western Iran . Coinciding with U.S. moves, Israel will accelerate its own psychological warfare campaign, using a variety of leaks and denials to heavily publicize Israeli military plans to strike Iranian nuclear sites. By upping the ante against Iran , the United States is placing a critical bet that the Iranians will reconsider their Iraq strategy and come to the negotiating table rather than risk a serious miscalculation.

To go along with the troop surge, the United States will focus on rearranging the Iraqi Cabinet to try to create a stronger, more functional government in Baghdad . This will involve sidelining allies of Shiite rebel leader Muqtada al-Sadr and bringing in a stronger Sunni presence, which will undoubtedly be a complicated and messy affair. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also could resign in as little as four months, triggering a struggle for power and a substantial flare-up in intra-Shiite frictions over his replacement. By the year's end, Iraq 's largest and most influential Shiite party, the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq , might be better able to solidify its position in the government.

Iraq is unlikely to split up into federal zones in the coming year, but neither will it behave as a coherent state entity. Violence will escalate on all sides: Shiite, Sunni, jihadist and even Kurdish, with the Sunni-Kurdish fault line in northern Iraq becoming active toward the end of the year, as the Kirkuk referendum issue approaches.

For its part, Iran has been keen to bring the Americans to the negotiating table on its terms. It wields the ability, through militants, to manipulate the security situation in Iraq and thus to keep an effective government from taking power in Baghdad , but it lacks the means to impose a government of its own creation there. Tehran will focus this year on increasing the political and military costs of the United States remaining in Iraq -- by lending more support to militants there, including Shiite gunmen and segments of the Sunni insurgency -- but ultimately, given the limitations and uncertainties on both sides, it is possible that a political settlement of sorts, however weak and tenuous, will be forged in 2007.

Iran will also use this year to push its nuclear agenda forward. The U.N. Security Council will be unable to pressure Tehran into curtailing its nuclear program. Iran will use the U.S. distraction in Iraq to move closer to its objective of becoming a full-fledged nuclear power, which will in turn strengthen Tehran 's bargaining position on Iraq and expand its influence in the region.

The United States and Israel are militarily occupied by Iraq and Hezbollah, respectively. The logic behind Iran 's strategy is to use this window of opportunity to advance its nuclear program to the point where a nuclear Iran will have to be accepted as part of any deal the United States wants on Iraq .

All the pieces might appear to be falling into place for Iran , but a major shake-up in the Iranian regime is likely to happen this year, and it could upset Iran 's calculus in dealing with the United States on Iraq . Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is terminally ill with cancer and could die this year. His death will send a shockwave through the Iranian public, which will come to doubt the Iranian government's ability to navigate the country through this critical period. There will not, however, be a complete breakdown of the Iranian political system. There are mechanisms in place to ensure the leadership transition goes relatively smoothly.

While his health further deteriorates, Khamenei will likely position former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to lead the country. Rafsanjani is believed to be committed to Khamenei's vision for Iraq and the ascendance of a nuclear-powered Iran , but he also is known for his pragmatic leanings and ability to negotiate more easily with the United States . Rumors are also circulating that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's days could also be numbered, and that Khamenei will make the arrangements this year to remove the firebrand president from his post. Khamenei's health will likely dictate whether Rafsanjani receives the position as supreme leader or president before the end of the year.

The United States will keep a close eye on any potential shake-ups in Tehran to decide how to proceed in devising a diplomatic strategy. The questions surrounding the Iranian leadership will ensure that 2007 will largely be a waiting game over the fate of Iraq .

Israel will make a big show of the perception that its patience is rapidly wearing thin as Iran 's nuclear ambitions develop into reality. Israel's focus for this year will be on pulling itself back together militarily and politically following its defeat in the 2006 summer war against Hezbollah. Israel is still unlikely to follow through with threats to launch pre-emptive strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities this year. Doing so unilaterally would only further compromise the U.S. position in Iraq once Iran unleashes its militant proxies in the region. Instead, Israel 's focus will turn toward Hezbollah. Iran made it clear during the summer war that it will use Hezbollah as a lever in negotiations over Iraq . Israel badly wishes to eliminate this lever, particularly since Israel has a pressing need to create conditions under which it could launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear sites. Israel 's strategy to contain Iran 's nuclear ambitions begins with the crippling of Hezbollah's militant arm. This rationale likely factored into Israel 's decision to go forth with a full-scale incursion into Lebanon this past summer, though the results surely defied Israel 's expectations.

Israel is likely to revisit its objective of crushing Hezbollah in the summer of 2007, and has already begun to justify a coming military escalation in Lebanon through public declarations that Hezbollah and/or Syria will be the one to instigate the conflict. Who ends up igniting the war is unimportant. The big question for this year will be whether Israel can develop the capability to root out Hezbollah forces in their strongholds in the Bekaa Valley . A good deal of restructuring will have to take place first, beginning with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's return to the political scene.

Israel could move indirectly to destabilize Hezbollah in Lebanon ahead of a military confrontation. Hezbollah is currently brimming with confidence, but it also must be careful to preserve its legitimacy. By provoking sectarian violence in Lebanon , Israel could pit Hezbollah fighters against fellow Lebanese, which would wear down Hezbollah's military forces and tarnish its reputation as a nationalist movement, making the organization more vulnerable to an Israeli onslaught. The Israeli Mossad could also be engaged in attempts this year to eliminate elements of Hezbollah's core leadership to further destabilize the party.

Though Syria will be busy building up weapons acquisitions from its defense partners in Moscow , the Syrian regime will be careful to avoid provoking a major military conflict with Israel . In elections slated for March, Syrian President Bashar al Assad will be re-elected by a wide margin, and no opposition forces will be strong enough to challenge the al Assad regime this year. Though Syria will keep the window open for talks with the United States , it will continue with its agenda to re-consolidate influence in Lebanon , which involves political intimidation -- frequently in the form of assassinations. The Bush administration is unlikely to make any major overtures to Syria this coming year, knowing that Damascus falls well below Tehran in its ability to wield any real influence in Iraq . Syria will be emboldened through its alliance with Iran and could instigate a low-level insurgency in the Golan Heights through a shadowy group of militant actors on the regime's payroll, but will play its cards carefully for fear of inviting Israeli airstrikes on its own soil.

Lebanon will become an intense battlefield for Sunni-Shiite influence, mainly played out between the Saudis on one side and the Syrians and Iranians on the other. The expiration of Lebanon 's lame-duck President Emile Lahoud's term in office will come in September and will be preceded by intense political jockeying between Lebanon 's rival factions over his replacement. In the end, the next president will likely be a friend to the Syrians. Hezbollah will be able to expand its influence in the government by forcibly increasing the number of seats that it and its allies hold in the Lebanese cabinet. With veto power, Hezbollah will be able to block any major legislation that harms Syrian, Iranian or Hezbollah interests, including disarmament of Hezbollah's militant arm or any punitive measures against the Syrian regime for the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. While consolidating its political power, Hezbollah will intently focus on preparing for a military confrontation with Israel .

The Sunni Arab reaction to a rising Iran will intensify in the coming year. Though the Sunni Arab states are highly dependent on the United States to ensure their national security, they will make it clear that they are not going to sit idle while the United States fumbles around in Iraq . The Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia and Egypt , will increase pressure on the Americans to act by strengthening the Sunni insurgency in Iraq and by showcasing plans to develop civilian nuclear programs to counter Iran .

The sudden departure of Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Turki al-Faisal brought to light rifts within the Saudi regime over how to deal with Iran 's expansion at the expense of the U.S. military position in the region. Even though the kingdom has recently enacted a succession law to oversee the transfer of power, tensions over the Iraq situation could exacerbate matters. Moreover, Saudi King Abdullah has sought to bring in people from outside the royal family to fill key positions within the foreign policy establishment, which will further complicate these tensions.

Initially, King Abdullah chose advisers and strategists such as Adel al-Jubeir and Nawaf Obaid -- a new crop of young, educated Saudis selected for their expertise -- rather than members of the royal family. Although technocrats long ago replaced royal figures in the kingdom's oil and economic sector, it seems the current king plans to gradually replace royals with technocrats in the foreign policy arena. An example of this was the appointment of al-Jubeir as Riyadh 's ambassador to Washington after Prince Turki abruptly resigned.

A Cabinet reshuffle could result in new oil and foreign ministers. While the Oil Ministry will continue to be managed by a technocrat, the Foreign Ministry portfolio would likely remain in the hands of the royal family. Despite disagreements within the top ruling circles on how to deal with an assertive Iran and the rise of the Shia in the region, it is unlikely that the key players within the House of Saud will allow these disagreements to lead to instability within the system -- at least not while the sons of Abdul Aziz, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, remain firmly in control of the reins of power.

Egypt 's political system has also entered a period of uncertainty, as President Hosni Mubarak -- given his advanced age and hence deteriorating health -- could either die or become incapacitated during the course of the next year. Mubarak's absence would have a destabilizing effect on the country's political system, as questions would arise over his potential successor's ability to govern as effectively. Mubarak's probable replacement will be Omar Suleiman, the country's intelligence chief. The stage will likely be set for Suleiman this year when Mubarak nominates him as vice president. The uncertainty surrounding Mubarak's fate has developed into a key issue as Cairo is under domestic and, to a lesser extent, international pressure to effect political reforms. The government could conduct a referendum on the constitution and replace the emergency laws that have been in force since 1981 as a means to sustain its hold on power and counter the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the largest opposition group in the country.

On the Israeli-Palestinian front, Hamas and Fatah will continue to struggle over how to create a power-sharing agreement in the government. As long as Hamas can continue to be bankrolled by the Iranians and the Gulf Arab states, the party can avoid making any serious concessions to Fatah in reshuffling the Cabinet. Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President Mahmoud Abbas will not resort to calling for early elections unless he can be assured that Hamas would be marginalized in the polls -- an unlikely prospect for the near future. The stalemate in the Palestinian territories will lead Hamas' leadership to make gestures with heavy caveats toward recognizing Israel , though Israel will not take the bait. The Israeli government will work to ensure that Hamas and Fatah are prevented from coming together in an agreement; while Israel is sorting out its own issues at home, it will much prefer to have the Palestinians fighting each other than focusing their attention on attacking Israel. The impasse in the territories will prevent the Israelis and the Palestinians from engaging in any serious final-status negotiations this year.

Turkey will have presidential elections in May and parliamentary elections in November. Barring a major domestic crisis, the military is unlikely to force early parliamentary elections to prevent the ruling Islamist-grounded Justice and Development Party (AKP) from gaining the presidency, though the AKP could see its parliamentary majority weaken. Turkey 's continued resistance to the European Union's demands on Cyprus will ensure that EU accession talks will remain stalled this year. Turkey 's withering EU aspirations will lead the country to turn its attention more toward its Arab backyard, where Iraq 's worsening situation becomes a direct concern for Ankara. Turkey will do its best to prevent U.S. forces from redeploying to northern Iraq. For Turkey, a built-up U.S. military presence in northern Iraq would be an obstacle to Turkish interests in containing Iraq 's Kurdish faction. As the United States makes shifts to its Iraq strategy throughout the year, Turkey will warn Iraq 's Kurdish faction not to make any bold moves to consolidate its autonomy and lay claim to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

The devolution of al Qaeda will continue in 2007, as the movement struggles to carry out a major, successful attack outside its main theaters of operation in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Though the jihadist forces in Iraq were largely eclipsed by Sunni-Shiite sectarian fighting in Iraq in the latter half of 2006, they are likely to receive a boost this year as the need for a robust Sunni insurgency grows among the Sunni Arab states. Iran , at the same time, has an interest in maintaining the Sunni jihadist component of the insurgency to target U.S. forces. The Egyptian node of al Qaeda will likely pull off its annual attack in the Sinai Peninsula , giving the Mubarak government another excuse to crack down on the country's Islamist opposition. Al Qaeda will try to spread into the Maghreb, the Levant and deeper into the Persian Gulf this year, though any attempted attacks are likely to fail.

Indian police acting on an intelligence lead arrested a suspected Kashmiri militant near Jalahalli, a village just north of Bangalore On Jan.5. The man in question, confessed,  to having been tasked with scoping out the security measures at among others Bangalore airport. And authorities also claimthat the man, named Kota, was acting under the orders of Pakistan-based militants connected to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) to plan and carry out attacks.

In South Asia there will be a focus on the Pakistani political scene, as the country gears up for general elections slated for Jan. 15, 2008.Musharraf has a comfortable majority in the sitting parliament to help him win a re-election bid, but his standing cannot be assured after the general elections are held and a new parliament comes to power. To consolidate his hold over the government, Musharraf will bend the rules and schedule a legislative vote ahead of the general election to get re-elected to another five-year term. Musharraf could even attempt to bypass this step by calling snap elections in the spring of 2007 if he feels confident enough in his ability to win. Snap elections or no, the legislative election results will be rigged as needed to allow Musharraf's parliamentary allies to hold onto their seats. The opposition forces will then use the allegations of a rigged election to hold street demonstrations, but are unlikely to muster enough support to change the election results significantly. Musharraf will continue with a careful strategy to prevent the PPP, the PML-N and the MMA from uniting in a potent opposition force, fueling distrust among the already severely divided parties by hinting at making deals with the various opposition leaders. Musharraf will also be able to hold onto his position as military chief this year.

The biggest threat to Musharraf's election plan is the potential for large-scale U.S. military activity on Pakistani soil that would undermine the military's confidence in the general and turn public support against him. To enhance his domestic image, Musharraf will distance himself from Washington in the coming year and become even more restrained in cooperating with U.S. forces on the counterterrorism front.

Pakistan 's relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government will further deteriorate this year as the Taliban insurgency strengthens. The Taliban will continue opposing NATO forces in Afghanistan and launch a spring offensive. NATO is not likely to have the capacity to surge troop levels and redouble reconstruction efforts. Nevertheless, Afghanistan will remain -- at least for this year -- a priority for the alliance. Because the Taliban lacks the strength to take the country from NATO forces -- and NATO forces are not willing to let things slip that far -- 2007 in Afghanistan will look much like 2006. Security operations will continue, and Taliban forces will improve their tactics and build on operational successes.

More recently on India; police acting on an intelligence lead arrested (near Jalahalli, a village just north of Bangalore ) a suspected Kashmiri militant. The man in question as was announced today,  confessed, to having been tasked with scoping out the security measures at among others Bangalore airport. And authorities also claimthat the man, named Kota , was acting under the orders of Pakistan-based militants connected to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) to plan and carry out attacks.

Barring a significant attack by Kashmiri militants on India's IT sector in 2007, no  shift in the Indian political landscape is expected in the coming year; the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party is suffering from internal divisions and is unable to threaten seriously the ruling Congress party's hold on power. The Congress party's main headache will come from its allies in the Left Front, who will continue to link up with powerful trade unions to resist Singh's privatization efforts and labor policies. As a result, Singh's government will need to turn more toward populist politics in an attempt to quell domestic unrest.

India and the United States will cement their landmark civilian nuclear deal this year through a bilateral treaty; however, Singh will maintain a multilateral foreign policy agenda to tame the opposition and avoid getting caught in any binding agreements with the United States that would require it to place a moratorium on nuclear testing or impose punitive measures against Iran.

India will also keep a watchful eye on its porous northeastern border, where a political crisis in Bangladesh spells a likely increase in militant traffic. Whether the Awami League or BNP emerges victorious means little in the larger strategic view of Bangladesh ; the instability caused by the warring parties is unlikely to wane regardless of which party is in charge. But the political developments in Bangladesh will be a cause for concern for India , as the rival political factions turn increasingly toward radical Islamist parties for coalition support. The growing Islamist influence in Bangladesh will give rise to radical groups that will play host to jihadist and Kashmiri militant operatives with an interest in launching attacks in India.

Further South the undeclared civil war in Sri Lanka between the Tamil Tiger rebels and Sri Lankan armed forces has already started to  escalate this year in heavy tit-for-tat fighting as the Sri Lankan army attempts to divide the northern and eastern Tamil strongholds in the country. Neither the Tamil Tigers nor the Sri Lankan army has a clear enough advantage to launch a sustained offensive that would result in a decisive victory however.

For updates click homepage here